19 Mar 2018


We have 2 teenage boys and one incredibly non-girly girl. I have spent zero hours of my life ferrying kids to and from ballet lessons and have little insight into the world of points and tutus and everything that goes along with it. Then, a few months ago, I was the stand-in parent for my best mate's daughter who was about to sit a ballet exam.

I witnessed a very intense 40 minute lesson from the perimeter of the room surrounded by other ballet mums - some of whom were taping their daughters' performances on iPads so they could later critique performances around the dinner table and work on improvements before e-day.

The teacher, Miss Diana* clearly had a mission to have every girl pass the exam the following week and was taking no prisoners. Everyone had to get with the programme. She controlled the class in a sing-songy yet strangely threatening voice that suggested Bad Things would happen if her instructions were not followed. No one else seemed freaked out or offended by this. She also used lots of French words that I'm about to horribly misspell because I left school nearly 30 years ago and never studied French. They included:

Bat mon gleesay
Bay mon dong
Bronda charloh ten
Rondeh joh n
Don't murmur
You can breathe and you can blink
Ballet second ton dew
Demi plee ay
No willy wonkeys
Plee ay
Gleesay close back
Grande gleesay close front
Aw fondew
Dev le pay du von

I had no idea what this woman was talking about. And I was genuinely uncomfortable by the way she spoke to the kids.

The weird thing was, the little girls appeared unfazed and were happy to comply with the French orders. And the mothers surrounding the room were totally comfortable with the arrangement and were paying for it to happen. There was an agreement in place that I wasn't quite getting.

It was a disconcerting experience. Everything about the environment was alien and unfamiliar. And even though a couple of the ballet mums smiled and chatted before the thing started (we were NOT allowed to talk while Miss Diana ran the class) they had a common interest in this whole thing that I didn't share (and had no desire to). I was a temporary interloper in their world, conspicuously standing in for a real ballet mum.

Which got me thinking about social situations in general and how tribal these things can be. New school. Leaving school. College. New job. Joining a gym. Becoming a parent governor. Joining a political party. Going to church...

Each sub culture has its own set of norms and habits that those who belong to it take for granted. There's familiarity and history and acronyms and an understanding of what to expect. Which is great - when you have a little inside knowledge.

But what about those on the fringes? What about those who want to join and start building history? Relationships? Bonds that really matter? Maybe that's asking a lot of your governing body (You only signed up for 3 meetings per year for the next 4 years - just explain your zillion acronyms to me) but churches - surely they should be among the most accessible places on earth?

Our church has an entire team of people who's primary focus is on welcoming people at the door, chatting to visitors, connecting them with other people and having really good quality coffee in constant supply. From a logistical side, the entrance is street level and there's loads of parking. All good. The whole thing works well for those who are already primed and ready for that kind of interaction.

But what of those beyond the fringes? The interlopers. The conspicuous ballet mums and the slightly freaked out? The ones who know this is a valuable resource of some kind for some people, just not them (yet)? What about those who want to observe from the sidelines then grab their borrowed child and leave before they get into conversation with anyone (possibly in French)?

This is where other ballet mums come into their own. The ones who make eye contact and smile. The ones who ask which kid you've borrowed and point out their own. The ones that are friends with your best friend and ask how she is. The ones that laugh at your unease about Miss Diana's voice and make you feel less uneasy about her. The ones who help you see that Miss Diana comes alive when she teaches other people's daughters to dance.

So, to all:
Regular ballet mums
Experienced governors
Veteran churchy people
Smiley duty reception staff at the gym
And anyone else who can make interlopers walk away from you, smiling and thinking,  'Je pourrais appartenir ici...' ** -  Merci x

*Pseudonym used
** 'I could belong here' (Hopefully - I googled it)

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